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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Top-5 Dirty Tricks in Politics

political party elephant and donkey

political party elephant and donkey

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Excerpted from “Voting for Ethics: A Guide for U.S. Voters,” authored by Hana Callaghan of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

The following are examples of dirty tricks to look out for when evaluating the ethics of a candidate:

#5: Whisper Campaigns 

Rumors, innuendo, and slanderous statements are quietly conveyed in order to damage reputations and/or dry up funding sources and support. Because the allegations are not made publicly, the target is caught in a Catch-22: if the candidate publicly denounces the rumors, it calls attention to the issue. If the candidate ignores the behind-the-back rumors, the campaign can be damaged.

#4: Push Polling 

Push polling is an unfair and unethical political device used to communicate negative messages. Under the guise of conducting a legitimate poll, defamatory or otherwise negative and usually false information is conveyed.

#3: Unfair Competition 

Practices that hamper the opponent’s ability to fairly compete are unethical. You will sometimes see wealthy candidates hiring as many political consultants as are available, not for their services, but to keep them from working for the opponent. If a candidate condones the removal of posters, or any behavior that stifles the opponent’s message, he or she is engaging in unethical campaigning.

#2: Interference with the Electoral Process

Any campaign practice that provides an obstacle to a citizen’s ability to vote interferes with our democratic notions of fair and free elections. Destruction of mail-in ballots, deliberately staged traffic jams on Election Day, and voter intimidation at the polls are all examples of unethical – and in many instances illegal -- tactics designed to discourage voting.

#1: The October Surprise 

The infamous “October surprise” is the generic term for a negative attack that comes out shortly before an election, giving the target of the attack little or no time to respond. If the attack is subject to denial or rational explanation, the interests of an informed electorate require that assertions be timed in such a way as to allow response.

Download your free copy of “Voting for Ethics” and cast a more informed vote.

Oct 1, 2020

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